Ending a marriage is never easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things I have ever been through in my life. But, if you can believe it, I think that ending a serious relationship could be even more painful.
Hear me out before you say, "What the heck is she talking about?!"
I have a friend, who several years ago got divorced because her husband was cheating. After several months, she began dating a guy who she spent the next two years with. When the relationship ended, she said to me, “Honestly, this is worse than the divorce.”
Her words stuck with me as I went through a divorce five years after that, and couldn’t believe how ANYTHING could be worse than what I was going through.
There are two main reasons why I think a breakup might be worse than a divorce.
During divorce, I remember feeling like I was in panic mode for several months. My thoughts on my ending marriage weren’t about breaking up with the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with. My thoughts were completely occupied with my children, first off. What was I doing to them? How were they going to handle this? How would they turn out? I was also thinking about finances. I knew I had to go back to work, and since I hadn’t been employed for so long, I was scared, insecure about my professional abilities, and wondering how I was going to juggle work and kids. Then there was the divorce, itself. I was totally focused on attorney’s fees, court dates, judge’s rulings, and if the decree I was going to sign was right for me and my kids.
Because I was so focused on all those other things, I never had a chance to mourn the relationship part of the divorce. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I miss his soft hair or how we’d laugh together, or burying my face in his neck and breathing in the smell of his skin, ” Instead, I was all about survival: financially and emotionally, and about the well being of my children. There was no room for sadness over my ex. That part somehow got squeezed out.
A breakup–where there are no legal issues to fight about, no children involved, and not even a home where someone needs to move out–allows the couple to give 100% of their attention to the breakup itself, and that is what I think my friend meant all those years ago.
Ever read the book Crazy Time? Author Abigail Trafford talks about how when your first real relationship after your divorce ends, it brings back the loss you felt from your divorce. You relive that memory of losing something, no matter how many years later. So, you get a double dose of your pain. You mourn both guys (according to Trafford.)
Also very important: Trafford implies that the reason there are so many second marriages that don’t work out is because one or both of the people have never mourned the emotional loss of their first marriage. And, she says that when they get divorced for the second time, they often mourn the loss from the first marriage at that time. In other words, people try to mask the pain of their divorce by marrying someone else, and when that doesn’t work out, again, they mourn both loses.
The thing is, I don’t want to minimize the pain of a divorce. Trust me, those were dark days (months) and some of the lowest, most painful times I can ever remember. But I have to believe that a long term breakup can be brutal, and gut wrenchingly sad.
The best way to put it is that neither divorce nor a breakup of a long term relationship is worse or better. They’re both awful and each is unique.
But when I recall my divorced friend sitting on my couch sobbing about her 2 year relationship ended, and telling me how guilty she felt that she was so much more devastated than she was by the end her marriage, I think I can understand how she felt back then. The good news is, my friend ended up getting remarried, has two kids and is very happy.
In closing, I think that the lesson here might be the importance of letting yourself mourn the relationship part of your divorce. On your terms, of course, and only when you are ready.
It seems almost impossible to mourn when you have anger and resentment, as well as the fears of your life ahead. But try to go to that place where you were once in love. Remember the reasons you married the person, the happy times, and his or her good qualities, and allow yourself a good cry over the fact that that time is in the past (even if in some ways you are relieved and happy that it is.) I think doing that leaves a person open to finding love again, not as a Band-Aid, but love that is genuine, and for all the right reasons.
Ending this on a good note, the best part (maybe the only good thing) about the breakup of a long-term relationship? You don’t have to go through another divorce.